A week's worth of workouts and two weeks worth of games represents a very small sample size with which to gauge a player based on numbers alone. That is why field coordinator Jack Howell went with a more qualitative assessment of his players when handing out awards at the end of the Instructional League play.
This is particularly true for pitchers. Many of the young arms on the roster had already far exceeded any workload they had previously experienced in their careers. Obviously, some of those pitchers were going to be hard-pressed to put up great numbers if they spent more of those three weeks doing towel drills than facing Colorado Rockies batters. But innings pitched is only one of the factors Howell and pitching coordinator Mel Stottlemyre Jr. use to gauge how heavy a workload each individual pitcher can handle.
"If a guy has a decent amount of innings, but they were controlled innings - only used in certain circumstances - then we think we can probably push that guy a little harder," Howell explains. "Some guys, either because of injury or maybe because they didn't have a great junior or senior year, didn't get used as much as the scout felt they should have, but really thinks has a lot of upside, then that's someone we'll get up and going and get our own eyes on him."
Beyond that, individual pitchers would each focus on specific elements of pitching more so than results. One pitcher might be working on commanding his fastball and not be allowed to throw a breaking pitch until he proved that he could throw two fastballs for strikes in the at bat. Another might be developing a changeup and need to keep throwing that pitch no matter how hard it is getting hit.
"We were forcing them to work on their weaknesses; put some big time parameters on them," outlines Howell.
All of that leads to many variable in evaluating 19 neophyte pitchers over three weeks. Here are Howell and Stottlemyre's award selections for the 2008 Instructional League pitchers:
Most Valuable Pitcher: Jarrod Parker
No real surprise here. Last year's number one draft pick impressed everyone who saw him in last fall's Instructional League and looked dominant for most of the regular season in 2008.
Still, Parker exemplifies both of the issues just raised. He threw over 125 innings this year including the postseason after only throwing for a few months per year at his Indiana high school (Norwell), but was well-conditioned enough and economical enough with his pitch counts to play this fall. Also, at Norwell, he was used to overpowering high school hitters with his devastating fastball and hadn't spent much time developing his secondary pitches. That changed this season, particularly during Instructs.
"He had some ups and downs this season: tried to work with his #2 and #3 pitch and pitch off his fastball," says Howell. "He made some adjustments. You don't want to wear him out, but he continued to work on his secondary and third pitch, and he jumped right on it and had a great Instructional League."
"I know he's a top prospect and you expect that from him, but he could have gone out there and not given the effort. But he worked his butt off, and he was just dominating."
Parker's slider has progressed to the point that farm director A.J. Hinch considers it the best in the organization. Combine that with his unanimously-named best four-seamer in the organization and his veteran-like command, and you have one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball. This Most Valuable Pitcher Award will be the first in a long line of honors for the promising youngster; he'd better clear some room on his mantle.
Most Improved Pitcher: Enrique Burgos
Burgos is a 17-year old Panamanian pitcher who made just 10 starts for the DSL Diamondbacks during the summer. The 6-foot-4 spectacle performed well, going 2-0 with a 3.92 ERA in that time, but that was against fellow inexperienced teens. No one expected him to face some of the best young hitting prospects in the Colorado Rockies organization and overmatch them. But Burgos kept pushing for a chance to prove himself, so Howell eventually had to give him one.
"He had some command issues, some control problems, but good stuff," Howell begins. "From day one, he was open to listening and trying some things. He worked on his mechanics, we had him on video, and he did the towel drill... you name it, and he got after it. We were only pitching him in our own intra-squad games, but about halfway through, he had done so well that we decided to try pitching him against the Rockies. He had a couple of outings where he really handled himself well."
You can hardly blame a 17-year old kid for having control issues, particularly one that must have had a serious growth spurt or two to reach his current height. Burgos is just getting used to the way his new body works, and likely won't be able to have a consistent release point or plant foot for a while yet. Still, one international scout described Burgos as the DSL Diamondbacks' only real "pitcher" among a myriad of "throwers." High praise, considering his raw stuff is exciting, according to Howell. Exciting enough to compare him to a former teammate of Howell's who won 117 major league games.
"Really good fastball with some real good life [and] with a good down angle and occasional sink," describes Howell. "He was working on a changeup and a pretty good little curveball. Reminds me a bit of Mike Witt: Kind of that body and that fastball with long arm action that gets on you and that over-the-top hook. Flashes of that top fastball when he puts it all together. Mechanically sound, which he really worked on - he's a great worker. The good thing is that he speaks a little bit of English too, which I think really helped him out."
Latin America is usually a great source of raw talent for a major league organization. But in Burgos, the Diamondbacks appear to have found a rare 17-year old pitcher that combines raw talent with pitching acumen and a great work ethic. He is most certainly a player to keep an eye on down the road.
Read about the most valuable and most improved position players here.
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